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The death of the search engine

So there I was, looking for bank statements. Inside my head, formulating simple queries that would help me find what I was looking for. And after eventually sorting out my tax, I thought to myself: “In the future, will we actually search for stuff?” On the web, I hasten to add. I ask this simple question, and I think it’s got a simple enough answer. I think there will come a time when to a large extent, our need to go find stuff will diminish, if not vanish…

And I’m not alone in this regard, either. After all, Google’s own Eric Schmidt has been pondering the future of search, too:

“Google is not at all done with your information problems. There are many, many examples of where it would be nice if Google had more of an ability to understand time and choices.

It will be some years before we can at least partially answer those questions. But the eventual outcome is… that Google can answer a more hypothetical question.”

I suppose I’m being naughty, really. It’s not the complete collapse of search as we know it. Instead, it’s search refined. Of another kind, if you like.

There’s no doubt that the people writing the sophisticated algorithms that the search engines of today rely on are doing an excellent job of things. But what else might they do if the web becomes semantic? I’ll let Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak on the Semantic Web:

“The common thread to the Semantic Web is that there’s lots of information out there – financial information, weather information, corporate information – on databases, spreadsheets, and websites that you can read but you can’t manipulate. The key thing is that this data exists, but the computers don’t know what it is and how it interrelates. You can’t write programs to use it.

But when there’s a web of interesting global semantic data, then you’ll be able to combine the data you know about with other data that you don’t know about. Our lives will be enriched by this data, which we didn’t have access to before, and we’ll be able to write programs that will actually help because they’ll be able to understand the data out there rather than just presenting it to us on the screen.”

I suppose in an indirect way, we’re in make-do mode right now, as mashups make use of loosely-coupled web applications, usually via their APIs, to create a practical whole greater than the sum of it’s constituent parts.

And what do we know about mashups? They exist to do one or maybe two things really, really well.

Sounds like what Eric Schmidt was talking about, in the sense that if you can describe a task, and the systems into which those tasks are described are sophisticated enough, that task will ask all of the questions so we don’t have to.

Imagine that task then linked to your goals, your aims and your agendas.

You’re looking for a new job in a new city and you need a new school for your kids. There’s a bunch of tasks straight away that could all work in unison. If they’re smart enough, that is.

But I have faith. The sophistication is a challenge, but the grand prize is massive and financially hugely rewarding.

In essence, our stuff finds us and not the other way around.

All we have to do is manage that stuff the way we want…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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